In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

418Philosophy and Literature The Apocalypse in English Renaissance Thought and Literature : Patterns, Antecedents, and Repercussions, edited by C. A. Patrides and Joseph Wittreich; ix & 452 pp. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1985, $19.95 paper. If one were to mount a hostile takeover of the new historicist corporation by an older scholarly conglomerate, it would look like this anthology, with its evident ideology of scholarship. Instead of attention to exorbitant beliefs and documents revealing unobvious social relations in a culture, this conglomerate, mainly professors of English, would regard the theme as intrinsically important in itself, given its pervasiveness throughout Western thought. In amassing allusions to produce complex albeit predictable pictures, breadth would replace interpretiveintensity: the editors' significandytiny preface offers no synthesizing schema, merely bowing to the topic as "vast," thus requiring the "congregated talent of divers scholars" (p. vii). Accordingly, the thirteen congregated essays march in orderly chronology: the early background of apocalypticism and its medieval linkage to projects such as the Crusades and New World discovery; apocalypticism among the Reformers and in the political life of sixteenth- and seventeenth-century England; the theme in The Faerie Queene, King Lear, and Milton; the "aftermath," from apocalypticism's decline in the Anglican church, its stigmatization, its revival in New England evangelicalism, its transvaluation and interiorization in English and Germanic Romanticism and in the work of George Eliot, and parallels between it and communism. Perhaps the heartofsuch an enterprise is Wittreich's concluding bibliography (nearly a sixth of the text), justifiably self-lauded as "spacious." Listing commentaries on Revelations chronologically from Origen, and secondary readings on theapocalypse and on literarytreatments, this useful, admirablebibliography is scrupulously described as approaching the distant ideal ofcomprehensiveness only in its Renaissance listings. Hence it emblematizes the book's unobtainable goal and careful, constraining historiographie approach. Even the book's only index, entided "Index nominum," registers resistance to interpretation. The best essays go furthest beyond describing and cataloguing allusions, or do so with the clearest distinctions. McGinn examines early apocalypticism and its adjunct skepticism. Pelikan finds a comparable tension in Ludier and concludes that canonicity questions about Revenions were less important than its various uses. Patrides's essay, constrained by scholarly caution against underestimating or overestimating apocalyptic influence (p. 231), helpfully discriminates kinds of use, from mere echoes to larger design. Wittreich's analysis of L·ar, also careful to find belief and disbelief balanced by Shakespeare, nonetheless captures the apocalyptic as a wild, revelatory poetics—not reduced, as in other essays and die book's subtide, to a vague "pattern" or "paradigm." Several essays desperately seek other quasi-dieoretical terms for die form of Reviews419 influence, variously called apocalyptic "gesture," "logic," "context," and in the grotesquely sustained metaphor of one essay, a "queuing" up of millenarians for the End. Murrin reproduces seventeenth-century commentators' interpretive moves in producing consistent prophetic application, noting a principle of polyvalency ignored by contributors who sometimes reveal rationalist disdain for the prophetic, especially if "hysterical" (p. 210). The paradigm of studied ambivalence is M. H. Abrams, whose workofRomanticism finds popular prophecy morally abhorrent unless it is "sophisticated and abstract" (p. 346). Many essays, virtual footnotes to Abrams's own project tracing secularized theology, predictably find "ambivalent" beliefs in dieir objects of study. Abrams's ideological agenda surfaces in a testy moment of liberal "relevance"—an allusion linking popular apocalypticism, a polarizing belief producing the desire to eliminate one's opposition, to the Holocaust and to the disruptive 1960s. An even more overt agenda animates the embarrassing parallel-hunting in The Communist Manifesto by Tuveson who, after describing certain millenarian parallels , announces that communism is "essentially" religious, and that we should therefore be able to identify its equivalent to the Messiah. A corrective to some habits of the new historicism, this scholarship lacks new historicism's "thick" description, rhetorical understanding of the documents, and even revelatory impulse. Like the essay describing eighteenth-century discomfort with "enthusiasm," itself displaying that discomfort, these essays, sharing the ambivalences they discover in the apocalyptic, simultaneously demonstrate their investment in keeping historiography nonrevelatory: it shall not be disrupted either by archive—revolution of fact—or by interpretation—revolution of perspective. Colgate UniversityDonald K. Hedrick Middle Grounds: Studies in ContemporaryAmerican Fiction...


Additional Information

Print ISSN
pp. 418-419
Launched on MUSE
Open Access
Back To Top

This website uses cookies to ensure you get the best experience on our website. Without cookies your experience may not be seamless.